For anyone foolish enough to romanticize crime in New York City, Harry Brandt (a pseudonym for Richard Price) takes the shine right off that big apple. His protagonist--Sergeant Billy Graves, a seasoned detective in his mid-forties--is currently assigned to the Night Watch tour, ranging from Wall Street to Harlem between the hours of one and eight
a.m. On his second marriage, to wife Carmen, a nurse, Billy has two boys, a wide circle of cop friends, and an emotional attachment to the remaining members of the Wild Geese, a 1990s anti-crime unit in the
South Bronx. Besides an infamous arrest when a ten-year-old boy was shot and killed, Billy shares a burden with his fellow ex-Wild Geese: what they call the Whites--“those who committed criminal obscenities on their watch, then walked away untouched by justice.” Like a thorn that refuses to be dislodged, each member of the Wild Geese is haunted by a White, each intimately familiar with the exact details of their crimes and current place in the world.
The Wild Geese meet for a monthly dinner, toast one another, reminiscence about their time together, catch up on recent events and family news, and get drunk. Older now and more jaded by life as cops, most of them obsess over that one guy that got away free, their Whites. Immersed in his own problems at home with a wife who has tortured nightmares, sleep-deprived from his tour on the Night Watch and the realization that life only gets harder with the passage of time, Graves views himself through the same prism as his fellow Geese, John Pavlicek, Jimmy Whalen, Redman Brown and Yasmeen Asasaf-Doyle.
Each carries battle scars and the reality of the attrition of time, each worn down by the daily assault of patrolling a city burdened with crime, poverty, and petty human behavior.
Everything changes the night Jeffrey Bannion is murdered. John Pavlicek’s White, Bannion is killed in Penn Station, the culprit lost in a mob of late-night drunks and trains discharging their passengers. The crime scene trampled by phone-wielding onlookers and a bevy of police, Billy is happy to go off shift and turn the case over to the appropriate squad for further investigation. But Bannion is only the beginning. Not only is another White soon put out of commission, but Billy’s family is targeted by a stalker who approaches his son at school with a warning. In the usual Brandt/Price style of overlapping story lines and a mixture of personalities, cops, criminals and family members, the promise of menace builds as Billy becomes aware of activities beyond his control that have taken on a life all their own.
Bouncing between his cases on the Night Watch, his concerns over his friends, and the troubling complications at home, a parallel plot develops, eventually merging with Billy’s concerns on the home front and his suspicions about the fate of the Whites.
It is a further illustration of the difficulty of separating job and home life, Graves set on a collision course with a moral dilemma that nearly undoes him. It is a brutally realistic scenario of life in the trenches of metropolitan New York City: messy and chaotic, death as familiar as petty crime and poverty, happy endings reserved for those who can afford them. There are no saints here--just flawed human beings constantly exposed to the soul-deadening violence endemic to the city, collateral damage to innocents the cost of doing business. This is Billy’s world, one he survives by instinct, stubbornness and blind luck. As for the Whites: “no one asked these crimes to set up house in their lives.”